Part 3: A Smile Worth Searching For

ANGI

I spotted this Angi only because I happened to be looking for another Angi that I couldn’t find at the time. Regardless Angi’s big, brown downcast eyes got my attention. I sensed a voice worth lending an ear to for a little while. She was one of the few children that did not find a cell phone enchanting at all, which helped to lessen distractions during out chat. After breaking the ice I learned that Angi was and 11 year old that hoped to become a cosmetologist. She enjoyed going to school and her favorite subject was math This was an interview where my questions ranged from “what do you want to be when you grow up?” to “what is something that you would want on your Christmas list?” Sometimes asking these questions, I might be expecting fluffy answers, but it sobered me to hear that Angi wanted a cell phone for Christmas just so that she could call her foster parents. It had been a while since she had been in their care.     I used my better judgement and avoided asking why she was in a children’s home if she had foster parents. I figured that was something better left to her privacy. Besides her Roma appearance, she identified asHungarian. She spoke the language, she ate the food, and even spoke of one day moving to Hungary where she could speak Hungarian all the time [rather than the national language, Romanian]. She considered herself a good child—quiet and well-behaved.

[The time has come reader, to breach a relatively sensitive topic of the Roma or “gypsies.” Gypsies are a minority of Romanian population as well as the Hungarian population here in Miercuara Cuic and greater Romania. They are a generally nomadic group of people who are believed to be derived from India. They are characterized not only as beggars but stubborn to conform to modern practices like education or working for a wage. Generally, they are seen as lazy and a nuisance. You may encounter brown-skinned women who don beautiful colors in their scarves in skirts and/or the dirtied appearance of their children who may follow you for a bit to ask you for money. If you do encounter them, do not treat them with scorn, but simply go about your business. Nod and move on.]

Part 2: As Bad as Sin

ZOLI

I noticed Zoli mostly because of the contrast of his voice and stature. He was on the smaller side, but his voice was rather based and sharp. He would be my first interview that set the tone for the depth and dynamism these kids were harboring behind their obsessions with smartphones, fidget spinners, and American early 2000s pop and rap music.

Anita, Zoli, and I settled out onto an outside wooden side porch and I tentatively started asking questions. Watching hopefully as Zoli sat fiddling with a phone that was not his. Its not long before the introductory formalities have been breached and Zoli starts opening up a bit with Anita’s help. I began by inquiring why it was rumored that he was a bit of a troublemaker.

“He’s as bad a sin, that’s what he said?” I asked Anita.

“Yes, it’s a saying we have here [in Romania].”

Of course I had to ask why. He answered that due to boredom and general amusement, being a troublemaker broke up the daily routine. He was like any kid. He enjoyed the camp for the games, the friends, and later bedtimes. He liked the freedom. That’s why I was surprised when he said that when he grew up he wanted to be a police officer.

“Others listen to them. They are the authority,” Anita translated, “He wants to be a proper soldier. Well-trained…” He went on to explain that a strong police force would align with a stronger country. He felt that Romania was very much behind, its police force was no exception.

I couldn’t help but ask what his individual vision of a good policeman looked like considering my understanding of the American police force. However, I found myself asking if I heard Anita correctly when she translated, “Muscular, well-built. Show respect…don’t die.”

“They don’t die?” I repeated. It was humorous to consider that the qualifications for a police officer in the eyes of a fourteen-year-old was to be immortal. In Zoli’s eyes policemen were the ultimate super hero.

He eventually revealed that besides traveling, one of his long-term plans was to move to the United Kingdom and join their military. He had no future desire to come back to Romania. Earlier in the interview I had attempted to tap into Zoli’s life before this English camp. I wanted to understand what home meant to him now, before his rise to an immortalized policeman. He had no concrete answer. He was still a wiry kid who’s favorite color was neon green and a kid that liked to spend his free time tinkering with bike mechanics.

When asked about home Anita translation was simple, “Wherever he finds his place.” Deep I know.

Summer Camp Kids (Part 1)

 

If you are a prospective IVHQ volunteer or are currently in the bouts of volunteering for a summer in Romania, no doubt you will come across the phrase “summer residential camp.” Without question, it is an opportunity for volunteers that have a specific interest in childcare and English education to place that passion to a beneficial context. I, myself, was not enrolled in this placement, but watched as my fellow accommodation mates said their temporary good-byes and embarked for week-long stays at camp accommodations. There they would immerse themselves in the needs of foster children and their interests. I only know this because I was invited to visit for a day amidst my transition to another volunteer placement.

It was July 6, 2017– a Thursday– when I arrived to the camp accommodation. It was a large multi-storied house placed in the middle of spacious, rural fanfare. Open sky was not hard to find and it all seemed entirely sheltered from the urban-ness of the Csikszereda/Miercurea Cuic city center. I had been jostled a bit by the drive, not uncommon here in Romania, and I was eager to get out for some fresh air. Upon arriving, I was greeted by Jackie who would give the breakdown on who I should talk to, and what I should be keeping my eye out for. I had previously expressed that I wished to put my writing skills to good use, and it is my hope in the future to explore the world of investigative journalism. I was privately elated that I would be introduced as the “reporter” for a day.   I even had my own camera around my neck to seal the deal.

***

“He asked if you are a boy or a girl,” Jackie translated.

We were sitting on some side steps to conceal our conversation as to not distract the children from their activities. Seeing a black person in the flesh (apart from music videos) in these parts of Europe is quite an anomaly. It didn’t take long for us to be found out. The dark color spectrum of my outfit and the shrunken nature of my hair underneath my newsboy cap apparently gave me a rather boyish appearance.

I turned playfully coy, dipping my chin inward and said, “That’s a good question, may I ask a you a question? I’m also curious, are you a boy or a girl? I’m not sure either.” Once translated my comment evoked a bashful laugh and a rapid defense. The kids were blunt. They were shameless, which can be fascinating and overwhelming at the same time. Point being, its necessary not to wear your defensiveness on your sleeve. Feelings are more than welcome.

***

Jackie had given me a list of kids with personalities worth exploring. I sat with her jotting away in my flimsy notebook, slowly putting together a general picture of the children and their lives thus far. Behind the smiles, the flurry of energy burst, and unashamed curiosity were kids that were participants of foster care institutions. Jackie admitted that sometimes the topic of their personal lives was avoided to prevent compromising their privacy as well as the pleasantry of their stay at the camp. I understood this caution, but I also wanted to get deeper than asking the monotonous questions of whether they liked the camp experience or if they liked learning English.

Once our conversation had finished, Jackie had given me a page worth of names. I commenced my search and was immediately flown into the rapid currents of children and chatter. With the assistance of a young woman named Anita as a translator, I could cherry pick of few kids out of the crowd that didn’t mind talking to a stranger for a little while outside on a cloudy day.

Reach

This is my granddaddy’s right hand.  At one time, my small infantile body sat cradled in it.  Before I was born, it gripped baseball bats and captured baseballs in mid air. It squared and doubled onto itself ready for various fights and spats during and on the way back from school.  It was unmatched in victory.  In my granddaddy’s boyhood, it picked through Alabama cotton plants, never lonely of soil and calluses–never lonely until pay day.

My grandfather once recounted to me that to receive his small pay, he would have to bend his torso parallel to the ground, eyes downcast, and arm outstretched.  Only then would my granddaddy’s right hand be lonely as it quivered, upturned in the Alabama sun waiting for metal coins to fall into it.  Even when the coins were safely given, my granddaddy’s young back would stay bent and still as a tree branch in the eve of a storm. In this position my granddaddy would slowly back away from his master because temptation was an eye flicker away.   It was not uncommon for the master to bring his wife scantily clad as to dangle a dangerous seduction–a reason to retract pay and charge punishment, even death.  My granddaddy avoided any such charge.  He avoided the charge of looking upon a white woman.  He avoided the charge of looking upon white flesh.  He reached only with his right hand and nothing more.

I remembered this account in the recent eve of Philando Castile’s murderer’s acquittal.  In the dashcam video his murderer asked for identification.  I wonder if Castile’s life would have been spared if he would have given his license and registration in the way my granddaddy received his pay.  I wonder if is his murderer’s fear would have been quelled before a black man folded and small–his outstretched hand quivering with what had been asked of him. Is this the level of compliance needed to pacify bodies–white and  brown– of fear?

Reader, Castile’s skin sounds of fear only because you and his murderer didn’t realize you both had been screaming the whole time. What are you scared off?

There is something inside that fortress you call “proper behavior”, “proper suspicion”, and “instinct” that stinks of your own faulty insecurities.  Your temporal discomfort and your overflowing spout of trembling assumptions is the lasting White American justification to put a person to death.  It was enough to put Castile to death.  His murderer was reaching with his right hand long before Castile had time to reach for his requested identification, for his daughter’s tearful face, or for his girlfriend hand.  Insecurity and fear is not a crime, but it should never be enough to allow an officer who deliberately shot a man acting within the law seven times to be vindicated in the court of law.  Your fear, your suffocating ignorance, your comfort should never be reason enough to snuff out a life and say that it was justice. If so, then your blessed American justice is a function of your weakness.  It is something I have no trust in or respect for.  Castile was given a request, but his murderer was too consumed by fear to receive it.  Reader, do not simply ask for something you are too frail of mind to handle, buck up and reach!

My grandfather was forced to reach for a lot in his life to compensate for the widespread defective mindset called the American Dream.  But dreams are dreams because they aren’t real.  Wake up and stop killing us.

Red Scarf and Patent Leather Shoes

Alright reader.  I wrote in my journal last night that for these blog posts, I don’t always want to have the tone of a fortune cookie.  So for this post I want to get a little personal, pull more from my own bag of tricks so to speak.  I don’t expect a large audience to actually read my posts anyways, so I am not taking much a risk here.  So… reprieve, huh?

Life is one long reprieve.  From the time I breathed my stuttered breath on this earth my body–my physical keeper–has been counting down until the end.  I am living the final countdown.  Because life is a long stretch of time, I don’t really feel the reprieve I am experiencing.  I have adjusted and grown accustomed.  I think I felt it more when was younger, honestly.  In childhood everything is so new and fresh and stark.  If it was bright day outside, and my grandparents told me I couldn’t go outside, I felt so attacked. However, the reprieve I experienced directly as a kid involved the mundane and the taboo subject of corporal punishment:

I forgot the red headscarf and those damn patent leather shoes.  Both could go to the deuce in my young opinion, but my opinion had no merit in her eyes.  She was going to whoop me.  She was to lay hands on me in a way not of God.  She was going to lay hands on me in the way souls are restrained in hell.  She was going to wield the whip of truth upon me.  It was a clear telephone chord, a tool for communication purposes.  Each strike was as if to say, “Feel pain, but do not cry.  If you cry, more strikes are given.  Tell me the truth, but only the truth that makes sense to me.”

“Alexandria where is your headscarf and those shoes.  You know you gotta wrap your head up at night, and I want to wear those shoes for church tomorrow!”  I could hear her say.

I would pathetically mumble that I had forgotten them at my grandmother’s house.

Her eyes would close in on me like a target, before I’d know it my cries of protest would be fruitless. “I am tired of your excuses, Alexandria.” It would have been over.

This time, she asked the question.  I fell on my knees in front of her in the kitchen, tears bursting from my eyes.

“Please, oh gawd!  Please don’t whoop me!  I just forgot it, but its the truth. PLEASE–”

I would have continued, but I heard her laughing.  She thinks its funny.  What?  This is good?  Yes, this is good. I, unbenownst to me, had amused her with my desperate attempts to not lose one of my lives that night.  I was saved a beating.  I gained reprieve from the queen.

Surviv[ed]

I think there is an idea that survial comes after some kind of relief.  Like, “Oh, that hurricane destroyed everything she had, but thank god she survived.”  The storm is over and we can all walk away.  There’s relief in that, but it isn’t always so.  I think survival is existing with something pivotal being taken away from you. You compensate, doing without.  Sometimes it is becoming the storm—striking before anyone else can. Sometimes it is living with a wound that you don’t know how to heal. Sometimes its living with the storm inside you, so you wake up knowing that it isn’t over.

 

 

Little Flames

She knew what it was to hate oneself.

A look in the mirror was painful and the beauty she possessed seemed too much a weight…like chocolate too rich to enjoy. The bitterness she harbored was too great.

No one knew what the darkness hid. She was cold but somehow knew that the flames of hell were playfully dancing and holding hands around her ankles. Each step forward was a weak objection to their plans but they only held tighter and laughed their flames brighter so that her face contained beastly shadows rarely anyone saw.

“Dance with us!” they cried. Pitifully they chided. Their ugly smiles were endearing to her, they did not realize the demons they were in her eyes. Their dance and their song was their fun and they only wanted to share…to play. To play the game that some call life, others call temptation, and others call damnation.